Risky custodians of trust: Instruments of quality in higher education

Ravidner Sidhu


This article inquires into the “calculative practices” that are used to regulate quality in higher education. After providing a historical snapshot of the antecedents of quality regimes, I discuss university ranking systems (league tables) and the UK’s Research Assessment Exercise. I ask two questions: first, what do the visibilities of quality conceal, and second, what possible effects are quality regimes having on notions of “proper” academic identity? That the quality agenda in higher education is tied to a collective national and institutional aspiration to be internationally competitive is generally recognised as an outcome of neoliberalisation. I argue that there is a need to go beyond considering neoliberalism as an ideology imposed from above. Rather, the techniques aimed at building a competitive, dynamic and accountable higher education system in countries like Australia and the UK are premised on creating flexible identities for academic professionals, using their powers of freedom to further their individual desires, self-interest and self-advancement. This has consequences for the knowledge cultures fostered by higher education institutions.

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